Even in the age of social media, where artists can constantly connect and speak to an endless number of fans with the click of a few buttons, the art of the sit-down interview will never be lost or, for that matter, replaced. From the intricate details of Nardwuar interviews to the knowledgeable conversations of Elliott Wilson, these interviews are what adds a dimension of background and personality to the musicians we know and love, and for that, they demand appreciation.
Whether explaining obscure childhood stories, the meaning of albums, their influences, or any other plethora of topics, musicians tend to open up when paired with the right interviewer, and the benefit of these conversations is for all to enjoy. Interviews provide fans with background, insight, and nowadays, viral moments, offering up endless entertainment that satisfies casual listeners and stans alike. They allow artists an opportunity to communicate their messages and aspirations on a level far more profound than a simple tweet, and consequently, an opportunity to breathe new life into the music that soundtracks the lives of so many.
Here at Lyrical Lemonade, we’re constantly posting new interviews with all of our favorite artists to learn more about the masterminds behind our favorite music and trends. Today, however, we’ve decided to flip the camera around and shed a spotlight on the interviewers who help bring these valuable connections and moments to life.
Be sure to check it out below, and never forget to value the work of those who move the culture forward beyond just the art we consume. Because in all honesty, the interviewers are the ones who often influence how we consume and view the music of artists we love. And that, for what it’s worth, is crucial to the growth and development of music culture.
From the infamous Five Fingers of Death to eye-opening interviews, hilarious calls from listeners, and stellar artist curation, Sway In The Morning is a show that has approached the holy grail of interview segments, and for that, it deserves a top spot on our list. Sway and his hat are legends in the hip-hop game, and alongside an all-star supporting cast, you’ll never find a Sway In The Morning that isn’t enjoyable, insightful, or both.
Furthermore, there is nowhere you can go in music without hearing, seeing, or discussing Sway Calloway. The pillar of hip-hop standards has captivated audiences for decades through various mediums, and in doing so, it’s safe to say that the most constant aspect of his career has been integrity — from the bottom to the top; because although we know him most for his flagship show, Sway in the Morning didn’t just start there.
Although Sway has garnered success and international notoriety for sitting across from artists, Sway actually began in the interviewee’s chair. Growing up in Oakland, California, Sway Calloway first began as an MC pairing up with King Tech for a total of three projects, their first in 1990, Concrete Jungle. The pair’s obvious chemistry landed them a spot on The Wake Up Show on KMEL in Oakland, and as popularity for the show grew, so did the broadcast size. By 1996, KMEL was broadcasting to Chicago and Los Angeles while growing in listeners and prospective fans. To no surprise, Sway was a hit from the start, as his naturally-gifted presence on both sides of the mic allowed him to remain a prevalent name both in media and in rap, releasing This or That in 1999 during his hosting career.
The turn of the new millennium would bring new direction to Sway’s career. His talents would be tested on camera when approached by MTV to join as a network correspondent, hosting TRL and Direct Effect. Hosting TRL would become a pivotal moment in Sway’s career, becoming a household name and important voice in Hip-Hop media.
His position in front of the camera brought a new facet to Sway’s on-air personality, his infamous hat, that I’m sure we can all picture in our heads. Regularly seen wearing a hat, even on his trip to the White House, Sway became synonymous with his hat, even pushing the long-running joke himself. To this day, we have yet to discover what is underneath that famous hat, and if not anything else, this only adds to the legend.
After working alongside MTV for 11 years, Sway was approached by Eminem who was looking for the next host for his satellite radio channel, Shade 45. The pairing was predestined, as Eminem thought it was only right to give the job to Sway because of his confidence in Shady when he was first starting out. On July 18, 2011, Sway In The Morning was born, instantly becoming a staple in Hip-Hop news, interviews and culture. The show’s roster of hosts would consist of Sway Calloway, Heather B, and Tracy G, covering everything and anything Hip-Hop. One of its most beloved segments, the Five Fingers of Death would become a necessary staple for any MC looking to gain success in the music industry, garnering noteworthy performances come from Childish Gambino, Chris Brown, Logic, King Los, Lupe Fiasco and Earl Sweatshirt, among others.
The show also churned out legendary, jaw-dropping interviews. One of the most iconic of them, to no surprise, comes from Kanye West. In late November of 2013, the Chicago-native sat down with Sway to discuss a litany of topics from music to fashion. The conversation was going seemingly well until Sway questioned the method of Kanye’s push into the world of fashion. Sway’s questioning would garner the infamous soundbite, “How Sway? You don’t have the answers man! I’ve been doing this more than you; you ain’t got the answers!” The interview would go down in infamy, with rappers, singers, comedians and late-night talk show hosts all referencing the fiery response from West.
The years since the start of Sway In The Morning have all been filled with knowledgeable, candid and hilarious moments that have made the flagship show an important factor of not only Hip-Hop, but music and entertainment as a whole. A large part of this credit definitely has to go to his helpful co-hosts Heather B and Tracy G, who provide their stellar skills set to make the program that much better.
We talk about giving artist’s their flowers while they are here, I think that same mentality should be reflected on the people in media. Sway deserves every single one of those flowers, upholding an ethical and humble attitude that needs to be taken note of by fellow journalist and musicians. Hip-Hop culture and music would not be where it is today without the valley of hyenas over at Sway In The Morning, and for that, we thank them.
All things considered, it’s virtually inarguable to say that Nardwuar is the GOAT of hip-hop interviewers. Not only has he interviewed every artist under the sun and then some, but the level of research that he does is on a level that no one else can, or ever will, touch. Nardwuar is the king of knowing more about an artist than they even know about themselves, and with his hilariously obscure research and eclectic, lovable personality, you can’t help but let out a celebratory “Doot Doola Doot Doo…. Doot Do!” after every episode you watch. This, along with an endless list of other characteristics, earn’s Vancouver, British Columbia’s own the #1 spot on our list, and for good reason.
Nardwuar has played an enormous role in not only the hip-hop community, but in the music world in general beyond the genre. He truly may be one of, if not the most, diverse interviewer in the sense that he can interview everyone from hardcore punk rock bands to Kid Cudi or even Lyrical Lemonade’s own, Cole Bennett. For many artists and creatives, getting an interview from Nardwuar is a milestone goal, as his catalog is one of the deepest & most interesting, dating back many years and allowing so many to be a part of that select group whose honor it was to be interviewed by him.
Even for the artists who may have walked into the interview unaware of what the experience with Nardwuar was going to be like, it was best put into context when Pharrell Williams said “This is one of the most impressive interviews that I have ever experienced in my life, this is insane” and “your research is second to none”. Take another example, when the legendary Snoop Dogg stopped his interview for a few seconds to let Nardwuar know “Most people that interview me don’t have as much personality & courageousness as you, you have a ton of those things and it brings the best out of me & you at the same time”.
Out of all of the things that make Nardwuar one of the most memorable interviewers of our generation, the unique way that he approaches his questions & how he digs up stuff from the past of the person he is interviewing has to be his best quality. He often finds little gems about people that make them light up once he asks the question, leaving many speechless with only one thought: “How did you know that?”. Often times these above and beyond questions leave whoever he is interviewing confused, stumbling and unready for whatever may be next. But that’s just the beauty of it.
Nardwuar has also had many classic moments that fans will remember forever such as when Snoop Dogg taught his fans how to microwave a blunt for eleven seconds, interviewing the entire A$AP Mob at SXSW in 2012 with A$AP Yams, asking Drake about his “bra stand” & his trunk full of bra’s way back in 2010, his 2014 interview with Chicago superstar Chance The Rapper, the story Pharrell told of eating six weed brownies & passing out on the toilet, his insane & high energy four-minute conversation with Harvard graduate Lil Pump where they screamed “esketit” at each other at the top of their lungs, or even the time that he chased Lil Uzi Vert out of the Pacific Coliseum in their 2018 interview after he kept asking if ecstasy was legal in Canada because a fan gave him some. Oh, and we can’t forget when Nardwuar became the first-ever TED Talk host to crowd-surf after his speech.
Personally, the one trait that I appreciate most about Nardwuar the most is his ability to keep calm under pressure. There have been quite a few times in his career where the artist or band he is interviewing will for seemingly no reason be a jerk or standoff-ish toward the human serviette, even sometimes to the point where it makes the viewer uncomfortable (i.e. Dave Rowntree of Blur or the back end of the Nas interview. However, Nardwuar always stands his ground and keeps it professional which I think is something everyone can learn from regardless of the topic.
For these reasons and so many more, Vancouver, British Columbia’s Nardwuar is in the conversation for the greatest interviewer of all time, so let’s take a minute to appreciate him.
Nardwuar, THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING YOU HAVE DONE FOR OUR CULTURE! Keep on rocking in the free world, doot doota loot doo, DOOT DO!
When it comes to high-quality interviews, few personalities are on the same level as Zane Lowe. He approaches every interview with a strong mindset toward balancing informative questions with captivating direction, and as a result, he’s been putting out some of the best musical conversations on the internet for a number of years now. Outlining the importance and value of a piece of music comes naturally for Lowe, earning him a highlight spot on our list of top ten hip-hop interviewers.
That said, this prowess is the result of years of practice for Lowe in the worlds of both music and hosting. In his earlier years, back in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, Lowe was a presenter at a local music station as well as a member of an electronic band called Breaks Co-Op, releasing the electronic album Roofers in 1997 with the group before leaving New Zealand. Soon, he relocated in the UK and worked at a Record and Tape Exchange in Notting Hill, which eventually led to a job hosting at UK radio station XFM’s Music Response show.
In 2003, Lowe joined BBC Radio 1, where we best know him as an interviewer for his Zane Lowe Meets series, garnering guests from Kanye West to Rick Rubin, Eminem, and everyone in between. Simultaneously, from 1997 to 2015, Lowe worked on shows at MTV including Gonzo, Up 4 It, and Brand:New. More recently, in 2015, Lowe left BBC for a new position at Apple Radio, and while he currently holds this position, he has given us countless interviews with today’s biggest artists, cementing his legacy as a true lover of music and artistry rather than virality and numbers. Lowe is as genuine as can be, and considering his long career as a DJ himself, his reverence toward boundary-pushing talent should come as no surprise.
In fact, while some fans may not know this, Lowe has played DJ sets at festivals including Coachella, Future Music Festival, Glastonbury, and more. His touring experience includes working alongside artists such as The Weeknd, Skrillex, and Kasabian, even boasting opening gigs for Muse and the Foo Fighters at each of their respective Wembley Stadium shows. Additionally, Lowe was even nominated for a Grammy Award for his writing and production on Sam Smith’s album, In the Lonely Hour.
Needless to say, amidst career experience in DJing, touring, being a musician himself, interviewing, hosting radio shows, hosting TV shows, and more, Zane Lowe is the renaissance man that music needs. He dedicates his time to sharing to the world the art that he knows and loves best, and for that, listeners and fans simply need to respect his comprehensive resume of work. Especially in a current climate where virality and output take precedence over quality for many artists, characters like Lowe, who push to keep innovation and integrity in the music world, are crucial. Zane Lowe has done more for the cultures of music and radio than we could ever thank him for, and if not anything else, the unwavering passion in his work should speak for itself as a testament to the importance of such a dedicated man.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I watched Elliott Wilson’s interview with Jay-Z after the release of 4:44. Wilson’s effortless ability to extract the meaning of so many seemingly minuscule details of a project blew my mind, and ever since, I’ve taken an entirely different approach to the art of music journalism. The truth is, interviewers like Elliott Wilson only come around once in a blue moon, and when they do, it’s important that we don’t take them for granted. Insight is derived from thoughtful conversation, and no one has mastered this quite like Wilson and his undefeated Rap Radar Podcasts.
With this, very few names are synonymous with Hip-Hop the way Elliott Wilson’s name is. The veteran music journalist has seen it all during the course of his illustrious career, as he’s been an active member of the culture for years, most commonly known as half of the Rap Radar podcast alongside Brian “B.Dot” Miller. It wasn’t always like this, however, so let’s step back in time to how Elliott Wilson’s career came to be.
Elliott’s start began as a self-motivated hustle that would translate into some of the most influential flagships in Hip-Hop today. Obsessed with sports as a kid, Elliott began with the goal to become a sports writer — that is, until he learned of music publications like The Source. Music was the only thing that could rival Elliott’s love for sports, and when finding out that a magazine dedicated their entire platform to delivering content about the culture, he was sold.
Two key figures in Elliott Wilson’s story are Haji Akhigbade and Sacha Jenkins. These two men would help Elliott get to where he wanted to go, hiring the man himself to become the music editor of their independent magazine, Beat Down. It was during this year and a half long experience that Elliott would gain the knowledge and understanding of what goes into running a magazine, preparing him for his next big venture that would help create the style of reporting and immersion we see from publications today: Ego Trip, created by Jenkins and Wilson after moving on from their first magazine together.
Ego Trip was an honest look at the culture, covering the new merge of rock and hip-hop, the growing dominance of rap culture in mainstream pop culture, and so much more. Where some magazines would focus on a genre, Ego Trip would cover everything the culture touched and influenced; graffiti, breakdancing, clothing, etc. The magazine was truly ahead of its time and was able to cater to an audience that was previously unacknowledged, growing in popularity to the point where outlets like The Source and Vibe simply had to take notice.
From here, Elliott’s childhood dreams had manifested into a music editor position for The Source magazine. There is no denying that Elliott’s presence elevated the magazine publication as it grew in readership, but quite quickly, this festered a sour taste for Elliott. His tenure would last for only two years leaving The Source in 1998.
Ending on bad terms, Elliott made it his mission to outperform The Source magazine moving forward. Beloved by the artists that made up the culture, Elliott knew that he was a voice and person in Hip-Hop that would not go away easily. Shortly after parting ways with The Source, Elliott became the editor-in-chief of XXL Magazine.
This position defined a new era for Elliot. Taking a more editorial role, Elliott would regularly write about internal struggles of the magazine and his relationship with peers through an op-ed piece. The editorials would become famous as they candidly spoke about opinions held by Elliott on the rap game and the artists in it, garnering a well-respected reputation that ran far beyond the XXL bylines.
Elliott’s tenure at XXL magazine would end in 2008. Not long after, he reunited with former co-worker, Brian “B.Dot” Miller and hashed out the ideas for their next venture, Rap Radar. Almost immediately after, the Rap Radar podcast was born, known as a brain-child of Brian and Elliott’s that would act as a branch of the Rap Radar website. This was one of the first podcasts to really gain traction and aided in bringing in the new era of podcast popularity, giving Wilson yet another reason why he needs to be a part of our list.
Also worthy of mention, B.Dot’s contributions to the podcast certainly can’t be underestimated, as he seamlessly complements Wilson’s style and makes sure that all points are hit. As a team, the two are meant to be, and this chemistry certainly manifests itself in the form of so many stellar podcast episodes from the pairing. Without B.Dot, Rap Radar wouldn’t be what it is, and the same goes vice versa. Few duos are better at providing commentary on hip-hop culture while simultaneously moving it forward, making Rap Radar an essential listen for all hip-hop junkies out there.
That said, Elliott Wilson has certainly solidified an ever-growing legacy in the hip-hop world. A true living legend, he set the standard for how media members should stand behind their work regardless of it being pleasing to the masses. His dedication to himself and self-belief is what placed him in the position he is today, and further, what gained him the respect of so many of hip-hop’s greatest artists and publications. For that, we thank you, Elliott Wilson.
Simply put, OTHERtone is one of the premiere interview segments on the internet right now. On one hand, you have Pharrell Williams — one of my personal favorite musicians and the genius behind so much genre-defining and genre-bending music from his solo works to his efforts in the groups N.E.R.D. and The Neptunes. Not only has “Skateboard P” produced a plethora of your favorite hits from the last 20 years or so of music, but he always takes reign as a highly influential figure in the music world, and one who truly embodies the phrase “your favorite artist’s favorite artist”. I could go on for pages and pages about the importance of the seemingly endless resume of hit songs that Pharrell has played a role in, but to save you some time, I’ll just leave it here: Pharrell Williams is a legend, and as a legend does, he’s been able to translate his love and knowledge of music into a radio show where he can share these attributes with the world in the form of interviews.
On the other side of the table, you have Pharrell’s partner in crime, Scott Vener, who, for some background, was once referred to by Forbes as “the coolest guy in the room that you’ve never heard of”. Vener is best known for his position as music supervisor for the HBO series Entourage, and has gone on to find great success as a music consultant for dozens of commercials, movies (Dope, 2 Guns, Broken City), and several TV series (Ballers, How To Make It In America, Shooter, 90210, etc.) His knack for music discovery is truly unmatched even in the eyes of Pharrell, and as a natural tastemaker, Vener’s role on OTHERtone is best characterized by his endless craving for music and all things related. He knows just how to bring out the best in guests, and for that, Scott pairs with Pharrell as an unstoppable one-two punch who are currently dishing out some of the best interviews in the game.
Match these two personalities together and you can clearly tell why OTHERtone is such a well-respected show. The interviews that the duo have conducted stand out as some of the most relaxed and naturally-progressing to me as a viewer. Both Pharrell and Vener make sure that the environment in which they conduct conversations is as tranquil and comfortable as possible, making sure that nothing is forced and that the artist can feel free to discuss their art as an extension of their true selves.
With this, as a host, the goal is always to make your subjects feel comfortable so that the interview can go as smoothly as possible, ensuring that viewers will learn something new about the artists they know and love. OTHERtone seems to have this idea down to a science, and it all starts with their surroundings and personalities. Few shows have taken such a genuine, unforced methodology to the interview world, but now that this Scott and P have, it clearly proves to be an effective strategy.
That said, if you get the chance to tune into an episode of OTHERtone, never pass on it. You might just learn something.
Known as the “Voice of New York,” Angie Martinez has impacted everything in Hip-Hop, from music to radio and movies. Although she gained a majority of her experience in radio, Angie Martinez had made it apparent from the beginning that she is multifaceted, filling her career with numerous triumphs that all seem to have stemmed from her uncanny ability to remain honest and transparent despite who is sitting across from her.
With this, Angie’s story begins like most music lovers, as a young fan just looking to get her foot in the door. In 1987, 16-year-old Angie Martinez secured a position as a radio intern for WQHT, better known as Hot 97. Much of her internship consisted of running to get coffee and leading the street team in supplying promotion for the show and any feature events and guests, but it wouldn’t take long for Angie to gain the attention of higher ups at the station who spotted her budding potential.
Soon, Angie Martinez became the protégé to DJ Funkmaster Flex, learning from the seasoned DJ and radio host as she began to develop her own knowledge and style of the DJ world. Not long after, Funkmaster Flex gave Angie a co-sign during her first on-air show despite her lack of on-air experience. She took to it naturally and quickly became every rapper’s favorite media person to talk to about future album releases, videos, beef, and more.
Working her way into the prime-time slot, Angie Martinez soon became the host of the Afternoon Drive. This coveted position in radio allowed Angie to be heard in a way that would soon gain her experience and relationships with some of the biggest artists of the era. Stars like Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige soon became close, personal friends of hers, and would help grow her notoriety to the rest of the music industry in the years to come.
Things would start to heat up for Angie as she found herself in the midst of several legendary feuds. I’m sure the 16-year-old intern from Brooklyn, New York never thought that one day she would be at the center of arguably the biggest feud in Hip-Hop history between The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. However, acting as a peace-keeper, Angie flew out to California to interview Tupac months prior to his murder. The trip was supposed to help deescalate growing tensions between East Coast and West Coast rappers, making it a definite moment in Martinez’s career.
Angie Martinez, through all that tension, still came out on the other side, wiser and hungrier than ever. The Voice of New York already had her eyes on the future of Hip-Hop, as her overnight show segment, “Battle of the Beats,” spearheaded the discovery and promotion of new talent. It was on this segment where Angie would play a new track titled, “In My Lifetime” by then-unknown rapper, Jay Z. The two would go on to become close friends, making Angie the person to go to about exclusive new Jay Z music, which, as I’m sure we all know, is quite the resume-booster to have in the hip-hop world.
Gaining the attention of artists for her candid takes and personality, Angie Martinez began to receive advice about branching out of radio. In 1996, rapper KRS-One suggested to Angie that she should start rapping. One year later, Angie Martinez would be a featured verse on KRS-One’s album, I Got Next. Lil Kim would recruit Angie next for a feature on her remix of “Not Tonight” which would become one of the most charting records of the year. She would release her first album, Up Close and Personal, in 2001.
After two decades on-air, Angie Martinez would part with Hot 97 in 2012, readying herself for a new position and opportunity at Power 105.1. She has since been in charge of the Angie Martinez show and has hosted some of the most talented and controversial figures in Hip-Hop today. The intimate style of the show makes for fantastic and insightful interviews with Angie’s trademark humor and warmth, finding the “Voice of New York”, a spot deeply embedded into the fabric of Hip-Hop history. The relationships she has garnered with legends in the industry prove to be a great model of how future and aspiring journalists should approach artists, and with this, we will continue to look toward Martinez for her personability and warmth, always reminding us that the reason we journalists do what we do is because we love the music first.
They say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life; few professionals embody this sentiment just as faithfully as Rob Markman, current Manager of Artist Relations at Genius. Ever since his days growing up in Brooklyn, Markman has found a genuine passion for hip-hop and all things related. Whether pursuing his career in journalism, freestyling with friends at the record store in his earlier days, or even releasing his own music, this omnipresent hip-hop head has, and always will be, a true student of the game. In this way, he is exactly the kind of person that the genre needs to push the culture forward — someone whose undying dedication and relentless work ethic allows them to operate in a way that will create a lasting impact in hip-hop far beyond the duration of their career. Throughout the plethora of positions and accusations that he’s been able to put on his resume, Rob Markman can say that he is that person.
People who truly care about what they do and will go to great lengths to push this interest forward are rare, and Markman is the perfect example. Throughout his lengthy career in the music world, he has held positions as a full-time editor at Scratch, MTX, XXL, Genius, and even has bylines in publications such as Complex, The Source, and Vibe with several cover stories under his belt. Markman’s work spans even further than this, however, as he not only oversaw the online hip-hop content at MTV, but also all of the company’s hip-hop content in the television world. Additionally, his time at XXL led to a position as Deputy Editor from 2007 to 2011, and his current position at Genius (which he has held since August 2015) has allowed him to interview some of today’s biggest emerging and established artists, discussing their latest work and making sure to annotate each lyric along the way.
Looking back at the long and prosperous career of Rob Markman so far, many names might come to mind, many of which take up real estate on his long list of past interview subjects including Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Drake, and more. And while these names are certainly important to consider as a proof of Markman’s hard work, several other ventures can be seen as true manifestations of his passion, one of which is when Markman released some music of his own in 2017 with an EP titled Write To Dream.
Just as the name entails, Write To Dream tracks the story of a dreamer who endlessly pursued his dreams in the rap world without paying attention to any obstacles that he may have encountered along the way. From his youth in Brooklyn, infatuated with rap and its surrounding culture, until now, Rob Markman’s career has been one huge example of how to follow your passions and turn them into your life’s work, and his EP spoke to this. Sure, it’s intimidating to enter the rap game when so many people already know your name as an established journalist. Markman, however, saw it the opposite way, using his platform to project his voice and create a project that perfectly told the story that he aims for his work to tell.
That said, while Markman currently resides at Genius and continues to push the culture forward with his work, it’s important to take some time and truly appreciate the mark of someone who can look back on their career with absolutely zero regrets as to what they’ve chosen to spend their years on. Rob Markman is an inspiration for all of us hip-hop heads to go out there and follow our dreams, whether it be in journalism or not. Because hey, in the words of Markman’s favorite album, Illmatic, “the world is yours”. Take advantage of your time and do what you feel. It just might work out.
Ever since he was a pre-teen, Adam Grandmaison has always put forth 100% effort into everything he does, whether it be writing extensive video game reviews at age nine or spending countless hours in his decade long run in the BMX industry. Thanks to this workaholic lifestyle, it comes as no surprise to see the speed at which he has built up the No Jumper empire. Adam is from New Hampshire originally, so the thought that a kid from a small town in New Hampshire would become one of the biggest stars & tastemakers in Los Angeles before the time he reached 35 years of age is far-fetched, to say the least. Nonetheless, Adam overcame the odds and accomplished the unthinkable, sprouting from his diverse roots in the punk, rap, and alternative worlds (to name a few) and blossoming into a hip-hop powerhouse.
That said, to provide some background to the No Jumper fame, Adam first started the site back in 2011 on Tumblr. Once he created the Youtube channel about a year later, he picked up some attention and viewers by featuring BMX videos with a vlog style that he still uses to this day, working solely in the BMX world until late 2014 when he interviewed hip-hop star Xavier Wulf on his TCU (The Come Up) TV platform. The video did some huge numbers, and about eight months later, Adam released the first No Jumper interview (while still having TCU sign on the wall) on June 5, 2015 alongside Ryan Denehy, describing it as his “non-BMX podcast”. At the time, I could assume that Adam never imagined that his channel would grow to become one of the biggest brands in hip-hop in just 4 years, but at this moment in 2019, the importance and widespread influence of No Jumper over the years is simply undeniable when we take a step back from the twists and turns of the story.
With this, the impact that Adam22 has had on the underground and even mainstream hip-hop communities in such a short amount of time is unreal, to say the least. He has quickly become a voice that many listen to for breaking talent, and for good reason, as so many of the acts Adam supported early on and gave “first looks” to have gone on to take over the mainstream (i.e. Lil Pump, XXXTentacion, etc). Simply put, No Jumper has given countless artists the platform they needed to boost their careers and succeed, and for that it deserves some respect; because while many people were clowning and turning a blind eye to the “SoundCloud wave” in past years, Adam not only accepted that sound but embraced it to the fullest, helping to turn SoundCloud into the industry disruptor that we see it as today. I could go on and on listing the artists that Adam put on before anyone else wanted to give them shine, but rather than do that, I’ll just take a moment to point out how easy it is to recognize just how many stars have No Jumper to thank, in part, for a portion of their success.
Peter Rosenberg once said that he considered himself to be kindred spirits with Adam22, which makes so much sense for the mass amount of time and effort that both of these legends have put into hip-hop. An entire article summarizing Adam and No Jumper’s impact on so much of modern hip-hop culture is for another day at another time, but it’s important to understand that the craziest part is that Adam is basically just getting started.
Kurt Alexander, aka Big Boy, has been a radio host in Los Angeles for well over twenty years and he has made a hell of a career for himself. He has came a long way from being the bodyguard for The Pharcyde, and at this point, he is recognized globally whether it be from his radio career, his movie appearances, or just from hearing his voice through your speakers. Big Boy and his team in the neighborhood all have a good, light hearted energy to them that is contagious to the viewers, which is why I believe that the show & Big himself have gained so much respect over the years.
With this, Big Boy has had plenty of memorable moments in his career, some of my favorites including appearing in multiple Grand Theft Auto video games, making Logic solve a rubix cube on air, or even narrating Vince Staples’ last project, FM! On a day to day basis, Big Boy is continuing to grow his empire with quality content, and his numbers are continuing to grow; with all signs pointing up, and even this far into his career, it goes without saying that the show is only going to get bigger in the years to come.
Big Boy is a staple in the Los Angeles radio scene & just the LA community in general, as he is an OG that many young California artists look to for guidance. Big Boy’s impact on the west coast is enormous, to say the least, and in all honesty, he is a staple in the community and a grail of an interviewer that many artists strive to get interviewed by. Whether it be thanks to his magnetic charm, his knowledgeable spot in the hip-hop world, or something else, everybody shows respect and love to Big Boy because he’s truly one of hip hop’s own.
On top of all of this, Big Boy has won Personality Of The Year by the Radio Music Awards four different times, and has also won the same award by Radio and Records Magazine three times. If I had to guess, I would say that Big Boy will rack up a few more awards before it is all said and done, but for now, let’s appreciate his expertise while he is still in his prime.
Radio personality and all around hip-hop historian Peter Rosenberg once said that in terms of hip-hop, “I will go toe to toe with almost anyone in terms of knowledge, trivia, and love of this music” — and looking at the career that he has carved out in the media, this statement is very much true. The reason that we should care about a person like Rosenberg is that his endless hunger for more knowledge about the genre he knows and loves allows hip-hop to move forward without forgetting its rich history. In so many of his interviews, the Maryland-born host flexes this knowledge muscle not to boast, but to bring important points to the light, and as a result, his bountiful resume of insightful conversations with every rapper you can think of is nothing short of legendary.
That said, becoming a human encyclopedia for hip-hop isn’t something that you can achieve overnight. For Rosenberg, his prowess began with an introduction to hip-hop from his older brother while growing up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Complementing this refreshing new genre of music, Rosenberg soon discovered DJ Red Alert and Marley Marl while visiting his grandparents in Queens, falling in love with hip-hop and radio immediately upon his initial interactions with each of the two. At just 14 years old, a young Peter Rosenberg received his first set of turntables, and as he grew up and reached his college years, he began his path of radio hosting with his first on-air show: the late-night underground hip-hop segment, From Dusk Til’ Dawn.
Known as “PMD” on the radio, Rosenberg grew his reputation in the campus radio circuit and after graduating, began performing as a DJ all over the DC area. A few years later, after his Hot 97 co-host Ebro Darden saw a set of parody videos that Rosenberg was posting online, the rising host received a job alongside Ebro on the show, which they now co-host on weekday mornings alongside Laura Stylez.
And while Rosenberg has grown and flourished as a reputable personality on the show, he refuses to let his career stay stagnate, instead choosing to take on new opportunities and continuously challenge himself with ventures such as his latest, Real Late With Rosenberg, as well as the hip-hop podcast, Juan Epstein, alongside Cipha Sounds. Beyond this, he has done extensive work in the WWE world, has hosted several TV shows and YouTube series including Hip-Hop Squares, Noisemakers, and The Process, released two mixtapes gathering promising artists from all over the country (with Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, and more as alumni), and even throws an annual show called Peterpalooza where he has been known to bring out top-tier hip-hop acts such as Raekwon, Meek Mill, Schoolboy Q, and more.
Needless to say, Rosenberg never clocks out, and by working tirelessly toward spreading his love and admiration for rap music all across the country, we can truly see the mark and impact of such a prominent figure in the media’s coverage of the genre. Nowadays, it often feels as though the media is overly-obsessed with virality and refuses to promote the longevity and timelessness that explains so many great hip-hop releases, but nevertheless, Rosenberg has always tried to keep this soul alive with his work. We can thank him not only for countless great interviews, but also for being a perfect example of a hip-hop head who makes sure he represents the genre in a positive light.
Peter Rosenberg is an A-list interviewer, and his well-deserved spot on this list arrives as the result of such a long career of reliable and thoughtful coverage of the music that we all love.
The Breakfast Club consists of three extremely talented individuals: Charlamange Tha God, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee. Originally established in December 2010 as a local morning show, this trio of personalities have grown their platform into arguably one of the biggest hip-hop interview segments out right now, all while maintaining their values of honesty with artists and a stand-your-ground mentality that has made for some thought-provoking conversations.
That said, when it comes to classic and memorable moments from interviews in the past few years, I don’t believe that there’s any better content than those highlights from The Breakfast Club. Take for example their Birdman interview from a couple years back that was all over the internet, or even their two groundbreaking interviews with Tekashi 6ix9ine, their meme-worthy interviews with Kodak Black, or the latest of the bunch: Soulja Boy’s hilarious yet important interview.
You simply can’t deny the impact that the Breakfast Club has had in the culture that we consume, and beyond this, they also possess an unmatched chemistry that makes the interviews that much better; each host simply bounces off one another, knowing what the other is thinking without saying it while keeping things endlessly entertaining. Additionally, one of the main reasons that I love the Breakfast Club is because they have real-life conversations about real subjects that some other platforms may not feel comfortable addressing. Because of these traits, we, the fans, have been blessed with some amazingly thorough pleasing interviews from the Club in the past, and quite simply, with this article, we’re just aiming to give them their flowers while they can still smell them.
The impact that the Breakfast Club has had in hip-hop will last long after the show is through (which, of course, is no time in the foreseeable future), and in light of this, it’s important that we appreciate their contributions to the genre without taking any of it for granted.
When it comes to sheer lifespan as a relevant DJ and host, nobody can deny the impact of the UK’s Tim Westwood and his 40+ years in the radio world. Westwood’s eclectic style and iconic catchphrases has been gracing the air for decades upon decades, and the craziest part of it all is that he still continues to remain at the forefront of the legendary interviewer conversation, building up his reputation with countless radio interviews alongside some of the game’s biggest names as well as an endless supply of DJ gigs to match.
Even from his early years growing up in Lowestoft, England, Westwood’s fascination and deep-rooted love for hip-hop have always been apparent. As a teenager, he hoarded electro funk and rap vinyls, building up his collection and making his own mixtapes along the way. Dying to get his foot in the music door, he soon went to London where he worked as a roadie and eventually co-owned a pirate radio station called Kiss FM. After some years developing his platform as a captivating host at the station, Westwood soon moved up to the national world and got a job hosting at Captial FM — a much larger station where he soon grew in notoriety. Then in 1994, he made the defining move of his career, getting his own show on BBC Radio 1 called “The Westwood Radio 1 Rap Show”, which was also the UK’s first national rap show. Kicking things off in his new position, Westwood proved his status as an undeniable UK radio legend by starting his new position with a live concert featuring performances from the late, great Notorious B.I.G. as well as Puff Daddy. In 2013, after an almost 20-year span with BBC, Westwood moved back to Capital FM, taking up a show on their sister station, Capital Xtra.
Beyond just the radio, however, the way that many of our readers may know Westwood is from the must-watch supply of content that he’s put on his famous Tim Westwood TV YouTube channel. Including freestyles and interviews all the way from Skepta to Jay-Z, not only is this platform a bottomless barrel of legendary on-air moments and interviews, but it’s also a testament to the remarkable number of American artists that Westwood has helped push into the ears of the UK (just take Juice WRLD and his viral hour-long freestyle as a recent example). He’s an ambassador for great music, and naturally so, this love knows no borders, allowing Westwood to push the careers of countless buzzing artists into overseas scenes that have grown them into international stars.
That said, hundreds of artists would consider Westwood’s show a required stop whenever they’re traveling in the UK, and further, many of these artists would tell you just how important he has been for spreading rap music all throughout Europe. Westwood plays what Westwood likes, and consequently, so, he’s been able to boundlessly promote an incredible amount of hip-hop that most hosts couldn’t or wouldn’t play on the air when it first came out. Tim Westwood is a true pioneer in this sense, and in the words of Snoop Dogg, “you can’t come to the kingdom and not see the prince”.
Thanks to these essential contributions to hip-hop, Westwood’s lengthy collection of accolades include five wins as Best UK Radio DJ, The John Peel Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, the 2016 Legacy Award at the GRM Daily Rated Awards, and so much more. He does it all for the love of the game, and by dedicating his life and work to the genre he loves so much, we can’t deny that Tim Westwood is one of the best interviewers and overall radio personalities of all time, from pirate radio stations all the way up to BBC Radio 1.
Thank you, Tim. Thank you for your contributions to the international growth of hip-hop and for doing what you love for over 40 years at this point. We could name all of the all-time great artists that call you a great friend and host, but in truth, the list would just go on too long.
It’s not too often in life that you see one person perfectly execute two different crafts; exemplifying this, B-Real has not only been a prime time emcee in his legendary Cypress Hill days, but also a stellar interviewer as well as someone who has also pioneered many different movements over the years. Naturally so, I don’t believe that B-Real really gets the credit he deserves considering just how good he is at his craft, especially considering how natural and effortless it comes to him.
That said, the creation of his show, The Smokebox, was a huge move for B-Real as an interviewer, and although it wasn’t always the massive platform that we know it as today during its beginning stages, he built it up slowly but surely with countless interviews over the last six years, one episode at a time. In addition, B-Real is a Los Angeles legend, so it’s almost a given that his widespread support of West Coast rappers has been arguably instrumental in a lot of the growth that the California rap scene and some of its hottest artists have experienced over the years. With this, heading back into the details of the show, a couple of my favorite interviews that we have received from The Smokebox include Wiz Khalifa’s 2014 appearance on the show alongside Berne, as well as the in-depth conversation he had with late Chicago legend Fredo Santana back in their episode in 2015.
Keeping this in mind, B-Real is without a doubt one of the people I would consider to be on the Mt. Rushmore of Marijuana pioneers, and he managed to bring that element into an entertaining show that no one can mimic in such an authentic way. The best part about the platform that he has built up is that he makes the artists feel as comfortable as possible, because clearly the best way to get an artist to show their true self is with some California kush & some Phuncky Feel Tips. Even beyond this however, aside from the weed aspect of the show, B-Real shows poise as an interviewer and asks some fantastic questions, answering many questions that fans have been wondering about without even knowing it.
To the tune of this success, one thing that any fan of The Smokebox will tell you is that the production quality of the show has grown immensely over the years, and undoubtedly, it’s slated to continue on this upward trend. So thank you, B-Real, not only for all the great music, but also for your fantastic interviewing skills.
At this point in her career, just about everybody knows about who Hot97’s Nessa is; however, this wasn’t always the case, as she’s come quite a long way since she got her start in radio at Wild 94.9 in San Francisco. Since then, this living legend has been contributing to the music community for well over a decade and has countless interviews out there — just take a look at her Nessa On Air YouTube channel and you’ll see the receipts (dating back to 2007) of dozens upon dozens of legendary conversations including everyone from Common & Twista to a young J. Cole & Drake.
That said, Nessa has been interviewing big time artists for a great majority of her career, so I can’t say that any one specific interview stands out to me, but each and every one of her interviews is consistent as can be. She often times gets artists to open up about personal subjects such as their relationships with their children, and it makes for some special moments that fans can resonate with on a more personal level than you would usually get.
Even further so, Nessa seems to be able to ask questions that most interviewers would shy away from, as she can address touchy subjects thanks to her genuine personality and overall comfortability with her interviewees. Rather than asking incriminating questions that could harm the artist, she brings a more calculated approach to the table, having civil discussions in ways that are both meaningful and thorough. The energy that she brings to the table in each and every interview really makes the artist feel like it’s a conversation with an old friend rather than just a press run, and for that, we need to appreciate Nessa. Just take, for example, her conversation with Chris Brown in 2017 where he said: “You are my real family, you’re like a sister to me. That’s what it’s about, it’s about the love & friendship.”
The sheer amount of classic interviews that have happened because of Nessa can’t be denied, so be sure to show her some love and keep checking out her shows; thankfully, this legend’s career is far from over, as we’ll be receiving countless Nessa interviews in the years to come as she continues to thrive in her position at Hot97 and beyond.
Storytelling is a virtue in the hip-hop world, and few hip-hop personalities have mastered the art better than brothers Jeff and Eric Rosenthal from the famed duo, ItsTheReal. Having been active in the hip-hop world for more than a decade, this New York-based pairing are best known for their lovably eccentric personalities and effortless ability to captivate audiences, from live shows to podcasts to sketches and everything in between. And the best part of it all is that all of this success and work toward pushing the hip-hop culture can be traced back to their apartment in the Upper West Side of New York City. They may be home-grown, but the impact that ItsTheReal have had on the hip-hop world certainly spans far beyond the bounds of their living space.
It all started when the brotherly combo started releasing sketches together on the internet in 2007. Their long-term vision was a show that would revolve around the sketches as well as live performance and interviews, but after being turned down by several stations, the Rosenthals soon found viral success with a “Deconstructing Biggie” video that was picked up by several mainstream media sites including Complex and Pigeons & Planes. Continuing their success and building a loyal fanbase online, Jeff and Eric worked for 3 years in the weekly sketch world until they pivoted to podcasts in 2010. Hired by MTV, the two worked alongside Jensen Karp on the podcast Hypemen from 2010 to 2011, and in May 2015, they began the show that they’re best known for today: A Waste of Time with ItsTheReal.
Boasting guests including Gucci Mane, Lil Uzi Vert, Cardi B, Mac Miller, and countless others, A Waste of Time with ItsTheReal has been the brother’s main interview outlet since its beginnings in 2015. Throughout this time, the show has seen widespread growth in both notoriety and influence, and beyond this, the Rosenthals have also released two projects of their own, published a book called RHYME BOOK, and performed shows in New York City, London, and Los Angeles all the while logging multiple gigs at the famous music festival, Bonnaroo. Currently, on top of their hosting spots on A Waste of Time, ItsTheReal also hosts a podcast with Styles P and Sheek Louch called 2 Jews and 2 Black Dudes Review the Movies.
As you can see, thanks to an extensive list of cosigns and notable guests from their show, Jeff and Eric Rosenthal have garnered well-respected positions in the hip-hop world simply by being themselves and always maintaining their status of “students of the game”. ItsTheReal has never tried to be anything it’s not, and even in the comfort of a New York City apartment, the show has been able to thrive based on pure authenticity and a constant push toward bringing a level of connectedness and personality to the artists who we sometimes see as so distant from listeners.
That said, ItsTheReal deserves a spot on our list for their pure love of the hip-hop genre and for always having fun and enjoying themselves in every new venture they take on. While putting in the work is essential to getting where you want to go, it can’t be forgotten that happiness and passion are the two top priorities in your career; ItsTheReal not only embodies this, but also reflects these values in their everyday lives as lifelong fans and historians of hip-hop.
Whether you know him for his endlessly captivating personality or remarkable prominence as one of New York City’s most important DJs, you simply can’t deny that Funkmaster Flex is an essential name when it comes to listing out the best interviewers/hosts of our time. Not only has he given us the legendary bomb drop sound effect, but he also delivered the iconic “that’s called bars” quote that I’m sure every hip-hop fan has come across on social media at one point or another. Put simply, Funk Flex’s influence and presence in unavoidable in the world of hip-hop, and rightfully so, as his countless efforts toward pushing the culture forward as certainly deserving of all the acclaim that they have received.
It all started when Flex was 19 years old, taking up an assistant position alongside Chuck Chillout at 98.7 KISS-FM in New York City. Gaining the knowledge and experience from his peers at the station, Flex soon moved over to 107.5 WBLS-FM, until he soon started to gain some serious traction by DJing at parties and clubs all throughout New York City. Contributing to the rapid expansion of hip-hop in the early 90s, Funkmaster Flex soon took the opportunity to start streaming his performances on Hot 97, and in 1992, after the station was forced to increase its designated hours of urban radio programming, Flex started his new show and mix on the station (this also made Hot 97 the first station in New York to showcase rap). He soon became a staple for regular listeners, and ever since, Flex has remained with the station, best identified by his endless desire to push new artists and always make sure he’s spreading talent that he sees as built to last.
In addition to his role on-air, Flex has also released numerous projects under his name, such as the gold-certified series 60 Minutes of Funk or the Def Jam-backed The Tunnel, including songs from Jay-Z, Eminem, Nas, Dr. Dre, and countless other legends. The New York-based host and DJ has also been heavily active in the TV, video game, and car worlds over the years, appearing on several TV shows and in various video games, putting on a car-show tour, and even customizing his own cars along the way. With this, it’s safe to say that Funkmaster Flex makes his presence known wherever he finds interest, and thanks to his status as an entertainer by nature, it only makes sense that he’s been able to thrive in so many different settings.
Accredited with a major role in spreading hip-hop all throughout New York from its original blossomings all the way up until now, the impact and legacy of Funkmaster Flex cannot be discounted as anything less than essential to the culture. He has dedicated his professional career to bringing fans countless iconic freestyles and sound-bites, an endless supply of new music to listen to, and most importantly, a spread of hip-hop that has touched millions upon millions of listeners in pushing forward the culture that we all know and love. Funkmaster Flex is an OG in the hip-hop world, and he deserves some respect as such. Thank you, Funk (*bomb drop sound effect*).
It’s very hard to go anywhere in this industry without hearing or seeing the name, Noah Callahan-Bever. Known for his work as the Editor-in-Chief and Chief Content Officer at Complex for over a decade, Callahan-Bever has already cemented his position as one of the most important people in media, and his most recent move to become Executive Vice President of Brand Strategy & Content at Def Jam records validates not only his ear, but also his respect and understanding for the artists and culture of Hip-Hop.
That said, Noah’s journey began at 17-years-old when he secured a position as an intern for the then buzzing, culture-shifting magazine, Ego Trip. Working at the now-famed magazine instilled a set of new ideas in Noah when it came to journalistic style and coverage. It was here that Noah would learn from some of the most innovative minds covering pop culture and what exactly it meant to be a member of the media, aiding the rising legend in pursuing several other writing opportunities during the start of his growing career in the industry.
The following Summer, Noah would find himself as a fact checker for Vibe magazine. He would get his editorial break after a few weeks on the job when he volunteered to cover a piece abandoned by one of the writers on staff. This monumental spot at Vibe would elevate Noah into the editorial assistant position at Vibe’s sister magazine, Blaze, the very next year. It was during this busy summer that Noah would make possibly the most impactful connection of his life that would have major ramifications to his professional career decades later: the summer of 1998 when he stepped into New York City’s Fat Beats record store. That Saturday afternoon, Noah was physically motivated when he heard, “My name is…” over the store’s PA system, jolting him to the DJ booth to investigate the source of the next level chorus. It was there that Noah met Paul Rosenberg, a manager to a young unknown rapper at the time from Detroit named Eminem.
In between his continued writing over at Blaze, Noah also secured several other writing positions at MTV News and XXL magazine. He was doing everything in his power to move up the ladder as a writer, contributing anywhere he could while growing his name along the way. Before long, Noah was thrusted into the role of Editor in Chief of Mass Appeal in 2002. His stay at Mass Appeal would find him interviewing some of the most iconic figures in Hip-Hop while also beginning a video element of production that would become a cornerstone of his professional identity a few short years later.
After a brief stint at Mass Appeal, Noah would return to Vibe as the magazine’s new senior editor. It was in this role that he would begin bringing his new journalistic style to life with the implementation of new creative interviews alongside many of the industry’s most popular artists of the moment. Almost instantly, Noah’s professional life began to accelerate, becoming one of the most trusted and wanted media people covering Hip-Hop.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Noah would become a part of Complex which, at the time, was still only a magazine. Noah began climbing through the ranks during his start there, beginning as a deputy editor until he eventually became the Chief Content Officer. Complex would go through several pivotal changes while under Noah’s leadership, taking on the Complex Media name in order to help the brand become impactful in video and original shows. Overseeing the creation of shows like The Blueprint, which is hosted by Callahan, Hot Ones, and Everyday Struggle all became cornerstones of the Complex brand, and amidst all of this, Complex Con was also born, bringing to life a new kind of exhibition that would be centered around Hip-Hop and its surrounding culture.
Two years ago, Noah Callahan-Bever was offered a position to join his longtime friend, Paul Rosenberg, at Def Jam records. The meeting of the two friends back in 1997 had come full circle, as Noah become the new Executive VP of Brand Strategy and Content for the historic label, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kanye West, Pusha T, Jeezy, and Logic, to name a few. After years of continued work with these very same artists, Noah looks to grow and better establish the brand of not only the label, but the artist they represent, as the story unfolds.
With this in mind, Noah Callahan-Bever has seen and done it all. With over two decades of experience in the industry as a writer, interviewer, host and overall creative, Noah has garnered respect from the industry’s most important people, the artists. Noah stands as a shining example of hard work, dedication and respect for the culture in which he works, and for that, he deserves some shine.
Note from the Editors:
Put simply, interviewers are the ones who provide context for the art that we consume every day. Driven by passion, their contributions to the culture can’t be undermined as anything less than crucial, as the value that they assign to different artists and pieces of art can often influence how this art is perceived in the public eye. From Elliott Wilson to Angie Martinez, it’s important that we take the time to appreciate those who use their pure love of music to drive forward the growth of the artists they love, especially in the context of modern media where this love can often be diluted by algorithms, numbers, and for-the-moment virality. Interviewers are the figures in music that we need, so let’s be thankful that we have them.
Thank you to all of the interviewers out there working out of pure passion, whether they’re featured in this article or not. We appreciate and applaud you for your work. Keep on rocking in the free world… and doot-doola-doot-do, doot do!
Post by Elliot Montanez
Additional words by Seamus Fay & Chuck Ramos